In the early days of the automobile age, urban planners without an understanding of how much room a vehicle needs to stop, turn and accelerate built gas stations extremely close to the road. Many of those stations, some that predate World War II, are still in operation in New Jersey. The law does not require owners of old gas stations to comply with modern zoning standards, requiring only that they must follow the law if they choose to renovate. Furthermore, zoning rules vary by municipality, with no statewide standard for safety.
It all results in a hazardous situation in which some gas station workers report seeing accidents on or near the property on a daily basis. Severe accidents, involving fire, explosions and death are extremely rare, however; a fact that is somewhat surprising to the executive director of the New Jersey Gasoline and C-Store Association. Nevertheless, customers and gas station attendants alike at older New Jersey gas stations next to the road are under a constant threat, one that is higher than in other areas of the country because of the high population density.
One recent crash in Wayne, New Jersey, violently demonstrated the ever-present danger. A speeding SUV crashed into a gas station and killed three people. One was an attendant, while the other two were customers, a father and his teenage son. A similar crash happened a few weeks earlier in nearby Englewood. A speeding vehicle reportedly went airborne upon hitting the curb and plowed through two adjacent gas stations, coming to rest just inches from one of the pumps.
City officials, like Englewood's mayor, recognize the potentially explosive danger posed by the proximity of gas stations to the roads, but few, if any, have considered possible solutions. In the meanwhile, those who have received injuries in car accidents at gas stations may wish to consult an attorney.